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We have provided you with some basic legal terminology in criminal law. If you have specific questions about how the arrest process works, making bond or bail, or what will happen at your first court appearance, please do not hesitate to CALL US FOR A FREE CONSULTATION:
GUILTY PLEA: This term refers to the acceptance of guilt by a criminal defendant. One should only enter a guilty plea after thoroughly evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of their case with a competent criminal lawyer. A guilty plea will end the case and avoid a trial, but may result in jail or prison and a permanent criminal record.
NOT GUILTY PLEA: This term signifies that a criminal defendant is not guilty of any charges. A not guilty plea is entered at the first court date also known as the arraignment (see below).
NOLO CONTENDERE: This is a Latin term which literally translated means "no contest". Some Judges will allow this plea to certain misdemeanors, but almost never allow it for a felony. If the "no contest' plea is entered, there is no less punishment, and the defendant may still get a criminal record. Most people have a common misconception that a "nolo" will not result in any criminal record. This plea may also only be used once every five (5) years.
ARRAIGNMENT: This is often the first court date when a criminal defendant enters a plea of guilty, not guilty or in some cases nolo contendere. Some Judges and Courts in Georgia will allow an attorney to waive formal arraignment and enter a not guilty plea for their client without having to attend court.
FELONY: This term refers to more serious crimes, which are usually punishable by fines in excess of $1,000 and more than one year in jail or prison. Any felony should be taken very seriously and should be evaluated by a competent criminal defense lawyer.
MISDEMEANOR: This refers to crimes that are punishable by a fine of $1,000 or less and up to one year in jail. Even though misdemeanors are considered less severe crimes than felonies, most misdemeanors can result in some period of jail time and a permanent criminal record. In addition, crimes like DUI, which are misdemeanors have other serious negative consequences, like the suspension of driving privileges.
PRELIMINARY HEARING (also known as PROBABLE CAUSE HEARING): This hearing is shorter than a trial but operates similarly. It is conducted in front of a judge without a jury present. The primary goal of a preliminary hearing is to identify which charges are fit for trial and which are not. However, the standard for a preliminary hearing is much easier for the prosecution than it is later at trial. In a preliminary hearing, all the state has to prove is that there is "probable cause" a crime was committed by the defendant.
BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT: This term is the "standard of proof" at any criminal trial. The term means that the prosecution has to prove a criminal defendant guilty by a higher standard. If the defense can raise some doubt in the minds of the jury or the judge who hears the facts of the case, then the defendant must win the case and be found not guilty, and acquitted of the criminal charges. The prosecution cannot merely convict a criminal defendant by evidence which proves guilt more likely than the evidence which proves he or she is not guilty.
APPEAL: Most appeals have to be filed within 30 days of the end of the case. In some cases the time for an appeal is longer. Appeals in Georgia are usually taken up with the Georgia Court of Appeals and then later in selected cases by the Georgia Supreme Court. There usually must be some legal ground for an appeal, such as a technical error by the Judge at the trial.
PLEA BARGAIN: This term refers to negotiations that take place between a criminal defense attorney and the prosecutor. A competent criminal defense attorney should be able to persuade a prosecutor why there are weaknesses in their case and why the criminal defendant should be given a lesser charge, reduced sentence or have the case dismissed.
TRIAL: The process by which a defendant goes before a Judge or jury on charges and is considered guilty or not guilty after all the facts and law are heard. Defendants charged with serious misdemeanors and felonies are entitled to jury trials. Minor misdemeanor charges may be limited to being heard only by a judge. In Georgia, misdemeanor cases are heard by a jury of 6 people, whereas felonies are heard by a jury of 12.
BAIL AND BOND: This term refers to an insurance policy to ensure the defendant appears at all scheduled court dates. Bonds can be issued to bail out a defendant from jail while his or her case is still pending. Bonds are issued in an amount for cash or a cash equivalent. An attorney may bring a motion to reduce the bond which will allow bail to become easier on the family or friends of the defendant. In Georgia courts, bonds may be allowed 3 different ways: cash put up to the sheriff; through a bonding company; or real property or land that is used as collateral for the amount of the bond. A criminal defendant or his family should consult with their attorney to discuss reduction in bond and the various ways to use the 3 methods of bonding. Bail is sometimes waived if the court feels the defendant is an otherwise good citizen charged with a minor offense, and therefore is released on his own recognizance.
VOIRE DIRE: The process of selecting a jury through questioning by attorneys. A pool of potential jurors are asked questions by both sides and a selection process takes place to decide which jurors are chosen. This is a highly strategic decision making process that has a great effect on whether the trial may be won or lost.